Bilingual education is a growing field, and kids learning a foreign language at a young age has been quite a popular topic.
Multicultural, bicultural, or biracial families especially deal with this question when deciding whether or not they should raise their kids bilingual. Many families do this, and others don’t.
There are many language learning myths out there, however, especially when it comes to bilingual children. But what are the true benefits and advantages of learning a foreign language at a young age?
Child Language Learning is not Rare at All
Before going straight into the common believed myths about child bilingualism or even multilingualism, I will start off by sharing a statistic with you that might blow your mind: over half of the world’s population was raised speaking two or more languages.
If you live in the United States, this might not be surprising to you, but it might sound extremely difficult, unwise, or foreign.
For example, in China, kids will be raised speaking the dialect of their hometown (such as Cantonese or Shanghainese), Mandarin because it’s the official language, and are taught English in school ever since kindergarten.
While most Chinese people don’t consider themselves fluent in English even though they’ve likely been studying it in school for twelve years, they are far more fluent in English than most of us Americans are in any other language.
Another example of this would be in the country of Morocco, located on the west coast of Africa. In Morocco, children are brought up speaking mostly Berber, which is a local language that families speak in together at home.
However, at school, they are taught in mostly Arabic, and literature, news articles, and more are normally written in Arabic. And like China, most Moroccans are also brought up speaking either English or French in school.
So trust me, your child will not be the odd one out when compared to the rest of the world.
Myths about Bilingualism and Multilingualism
There are a lot of things we take for fact but actually have either never been proven or have been proven wrong about bilingualism.
As a parent trying to make this important decision, it is good to look on both the pros and cons of the spectrum. However, don’t be misinformed–many people who argue against bilingualism using these myths haven’t actually talked to a specialist in the area of bilingual education.
1. Growing up Bilingual will Confuse Your Child.
While bilingual babies might mix languages from time to time, this is not a forever effect. Even in monolingual children, you can see the gaps of where they have not yet learned certain words and structures in their one native language.
For example, when a monolingual child who was born and raised speaking only English is thinking of a word, but doesn’t know how to say it yet, they will point to it. Let’s use a door for example. They will be talking to you in English, then point to the door because they don’t know how to say it yet.
The same thing happens to bilingual children, except instead of pointing to an object they don’t know how to say in English, they might say it in their other language instead. Taking the door example again, a bilingual child might say: “look at that red puerta,” if they are raised speaking English and Spanish.
This proves that there is nothing unusual about mixing languages. Monolingual kids do the same thing by pointing.
Also, like I said earlier, this will not last forever. Soon your child will know how to say ‘door’ in both languages, just like how babies speaking only English will one day know nearly everything in English.
They are not confused, just learning.
2. Bilingualism Causes Delays in School and in the Other Language
Yes, a child might be more comfortable saying certain words in one language than in the other, but this does not cause a delay in their learning abilities.
As I said earlier, the gaps between languages will be mostly filled by the time kids are ready to start school, and should be speaking the language just as well as their peers do.
Additionally, according to experts, if a child truly does have a language delay issue then it will show in both languages, not just one. Therefore, it is not a language thing, but a speech thing that a lot of people are just born with.
I’m sure you know plenty of monolingual people who have had to go through speech therapy as a kid, and that wasn’t because of another language.
3. Parents Must be Fluent in Both Languages for Their Kid to be
Actually, this isn’t true. While that might surprise you, I actually knew a family whom I was close to who tried to raise their adopted daughter to speak both English and French as a baby. No one else, from parents to the older siblings, spoke French at all.
Yet, within days, their baby was speaking in French words.
The key to this is exposure. At this age, immersion is the only way to learn and be fluent in any language at all. This obviously changes as you get older, but as babies and toddlers, flashcards and worksheets do no good, if you haven’t figured that out yet.
Some tips for this would be letting your child watch TV shows in both languages, learning the basic words and enough to have conversations with them yourself, or getting them a tutor or nanny who speaks the language to play with them a few days a week.
5 Reasons Why You Should Raise Your Kid Bilingually
Now let’s talk about why it’s a worthy decision to teach your kids more than one language and what the results will be.
First off, I was raised in a biracial home. My mom is American and my dad is Venezuelan-American.
As a baby, my dad was taught only Spanish and spoke solely it until he was about ten years old, when he moved to the United States and had to learn English through immersion.
Now, as most of you know, I’m currently learning Spanish and I’m an intermediate speaker. If it was my dad’s first language for ten years, why didn’t he raise me the same way, speaking both Spanish and English?
Well, my parents definitely thought about it, and throughout my childhood he did speak in Spanish quite often. However, not often enough for me to learn more than a few simple words like ‘hello,’ ‘goodbye,’ ‘thank you,’ ‘milk,’ ‘eggs,’ ‘breakfast,’ etc.
So, coming from a teenager who was almost raised bilingually, I wish my parents would have taught me both Spanish and English as a baby. In fact, I now have friends who were raised speaking both Spanish and English and I’m extremely jealous! My best friend, her boyfriend, my ex-boyfriend who is now my absolute best guy friend, and many more of my closest friends speak both languages because of their Hispanic or Latino heritage.
It also sucks being one of the only people in your huge family (and by huge I mean huge; my grandmother was the youngest of 13 kids!) who cannot speak the language of the country you came from.
So, allow me to convince you that raising your kids bilingually, whether it is part of their heritage or not, is worth it and beneficial!
Reason 1: It Will Give Them Greater Opportunities in the Future
This is a fact. There are much more job options to choose from, higher pay, the ability to work outside the country, and more for bilingual and multilingual people. Why would you want your baby to miss out on that?!
It also allows for more opportunities to travel. Think of all the beautiful places you can go with a second language.
Reason 2: Bilingual Kids Actually Have an Advantage in Education
Our brains and the way we think are constantly being studied, but a few things that many researchers have found is that in the area of bilingual education.
It is said to have been found that bilingual kids score higher on problem-solving and creative thinking tests. This is likely due to the fact that they are being brought up with more than just one cultural window through which to see the world.
It is also said that bilingual children are able to focus more on mental tasks and are more attentive. I have already seen this in myself having learned two foreign languages on my own. As a trilingual, it is easy for me to tune out distractions and to focus on the task in front of me. People have made remarks on how amazingly focused I am and ask how I’m able to read so fast and finish my homework before the bell rings when everyone around me is being extremely loud and obnoxious.
The thing is, it is scientifically proven that activity is increased in the brains of bilingual people, old and young. When you think in two languages, well, you’re doing double the thinking, which means you’re getting more practice.
And believe it or not, thinking and focusing does take practice.
Reason 3: Bilingual Kids Are Actually More Literate than Monolingual
This, as well as the previous point, both are the complete opposite of the myth that being bilingual causes language delays.
According to research that had been done by York University, bilingual kids show to be more literature in verbal and non-verbal forms of communication. This means they understand things when heard and when read better than the average monolingual peer.
Reason 4: Bilingual Kids are More Understanding of the World
When you speak another language you’ve done more than just learn how to speak, you’ve learned how to look at the world through the viewpoint of another culture. Awareness, interest, diversity, and creativity are just a few results of this extreme benefit.
Believe it or not, there are people out there (and a lot of them at that) who see the world differently than those in this country. Wow! A shocker right?
Well, your child’s horizons will now have been broadened. They will not be limited to the worldview of the culture they live in. Instead, they can reconnect with their heritage, experience other cultures for themselves, and see the world from the perspectives of several people groups instead of just one.
Reason 5: Being Bilingual Has Many Long-Term Health Benefits
Knowing another language has lead to studies that show people whose lifespan has been increased by up to five years.
Being fluent in other languages also has been shown to delay Alzheimer’s and dementia because of the increased brain activity we talked about earlier.
Basically, your child’s brain stays healthy and active longer than the average person’s. So while learning another language at a young age won’t delay education abilities, it will likely delay aging!
There is No Better Time to Learn Another Language than at a Young Age.
It’s much easier, more fun, and opens up many doors naturally as a child gets older. While there are many scientific and psychological benefits, in my opinion, nothing is more precious than to have such an important part of your heritage in your life and experiencing the opportunities it brings.
As I said before, I wish my parents would have raised me bilingually. I’m still not sure why they decided not to, or if it was even more than a few discussions they had that were just never thought of again after my birth.
However, I’m glad that I do at least have a native speaker living in my house, and more who I can see and connect with everyday if I wish. I’m also extremely thankful for the passion I have for learning other languages.
To sum it up, there is no better time than now.
Whether you’re one day old or in your eighties, it is never too late or too early to learn. There is simply no such thing. And if you’re a parent who is considering raising a bilingual child but doesn’t speak the language fluently themselves, now is a great time to take up that journey with your baby and walk down that path together.
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